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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Baby Signs

When I was in high school I babysat for a little girl from the age of 14 months.  Her parents had taught her a few simple baby signs, and it was so invaluable!  She could tell me when she was hungry, thirsty, or all done. . . it was only a few things but it made my job as a babysitter a million times easier!  I always said when I had kids, I would teach them baby signs, too.

Fast forward to last year--teaching your baby to sign has never been more popular and easy.  There are tons of resources and a million different versions of baby signs.  We decided to teach Jamey American Sign Language because it is a common and widely used language throughout the whole country--teaching Jamey the "real" sign means that we are teaching him a way to communicate, for life, with other people all over the country.

The research on teaching signing is very motivating--Over 140 participating families were randomly assigned to a signing or non-signing group and the following differences were noted (among other benefits):
-By age two, signing children on average have 50 more spoken words in their vocab than non-signing children
-By 3 years old, signing children were speaking at the level of average (non-signing) 4 year olds.
-At age 8, children who had learned to sign as babies had an average IQ of 114, which was 12 points higher than their non-signing peers at 102.  (This is a HUGE difference, and somewhat shocking to me!)

So how did we start out with signing?

From about 6 months, we started out with demonstrating simple signs to Jamey, such as milk, nurse, more, and all done.  It was a long time before he was able to do the signs back to us.  Starting to wave is usually the first "sign" that they are ready to start to use more signs.  Jamey started to wave around 10.5 months.  After this, the first signs he would do were all hand signs only:

Milk, Light, Hi/Bye (waving), More (4 signs total)

Then at some point a little before he turned a year old, a new connection was forged in his brain and he started learning how do signs referencing his own body:

Mom, Dad, Nurse, All Done (8 signs total)

Then, around 12/13 months, some language center in his brain turned on.  He started to nurse a lot more and at the same time, wanted to know the word and sign for everything he saw.  All of a sudden his favorite books were picture dictionaries.  This was an absolute explosion in his signing vocabulary, and I honestly think he was only limited by OUR knowledge and ability to teach him.

At 13 months, he could sign all of the above signs, plus:

Potty, Diaper, Hot, and Yay (clapping) (12 signs total)

At this point we got a little more serious about teaching ourselves so that we were able to teach him, and by 14.5 months he had added all of the following:

Water, Drink, Food, Orange
Cat, Dog, Bird, Pig
Hat, Shirt, Shoe
Yes, Moon, Teeth, Please, Bath
(28 signs total)

Only two weeks later (15 months) he'd added:

Grandpa, Grandma
Cow, Bear
Want, Hurts, Sleep
Sun, Boy, Working, Car, Book
Additionally he had invented a way to turn words into a question by shrugging/looking around while making a sign.  We did not teach him this but he came up with it naturally after learning "where"
(42 signs total)

By 16.5 months, he'd added:

No, Thank you, Sad
Rain, Fire, Grapes
Turtle, Lion
Additionally he had made up a sign to request to watch "Blues Clues"
He had also made up a sign to ask us to practice qigong!
(52 signs total)

By 18 months:

Mouse, Frog, Butterfly, Fish
Apple, Library, Outside, Firefighter
Baby, Man
(63 signs total)

Now he's 19 months.  And he's learned even more, which I haven't written down yet and probably won't remember, but let's try:

James (a sign I made up for his name)
Pee, Poop
Truck, Airplane, Boat
Tiger, Spider
Aunt, Uncle, Cousin
(77 signs total)
Honestly there are definitely some I am forgetting.  I have to be honest that my kid is a delayed talker, however, kids who have learned as MANY signs as he has often have delays because they are not dependent on language to communicate.  With this said, he has a HUGE comprehensive vocabulary and has understood pretty much everything we say for many months.

Additionally (and interestingly), the first intervention for kids who are brought to speech therapists with language delays is to begin to teach signing.  There can be a variety of physical issues that can interfere with language, but signing means that even a non-speaking child can begin to build the language centers in their brains at this critical age, which is actually much more important.

Many people have commented on Jamey.  He is obviously very smart, but more than that, he is a confident and independent person.  He has very good self esteem and can participate actively in conversations with all kinds of people.  Most of our friends and family have enjoyed learning some signs, too.

And to be honest I LOVE it.  I have always been interested in language and I think I enjoy learning the signs almost as much as Jamey does.  Plus a lot of the signs are so intuitive, or relate to each other and the signing alphabet in fun and interesting ways . . . the benefits are not limited to the child but extend to everyone the child is in contact with!

So we'll continue to build our family vocabulary.  Little Julien will be luckier than Jamey because he will be less limited at an early age by our ignorance and will be able to learn more signs at will.  Additionally I've heard that older siblings really enjoy passing their signing knowledge onto their little siblings!  I can't wait.


laurengould said...


I think signing is so amazing. When I talk about it to people they are almost in disbelief, though I believe baby signing is becoming much more prevalent. I want to try to learn more signs, too! Last time I was around LJ I didn't understand a lot of his signs, oops!, but it's still fascinating to witness.

Also I love hearing stories about babies that can sign signing to each other. How presh!

Nice update my bidder!

mpence said...

I signed the most with my twins...who were very late talkers, at least in english. They started baby babbling to eachother before they could even walk. One would say something, the other would hand something to the first, and say something to her, and they would both start to laugh - I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, and how could this have happened right under my nose, since I was ALWAYS with them!?

By the time they were 18 months old, they were signing like James!

We took a long car ride when they were 17 months old. First day, we drove about 15 hours. 2nd day, I loaded them up in their carseats, and Bailey signed, "All done Car." They were using combinations of signs to make new sentences to get their ideas across. I was so glad that I taught them sign language! (And twins tend to be later talkers when they make up their own twin language.)

I have been really lazy about it with everyone else - just baby signs mostly, but I hope to get back on top of it, teach it to everyone else and let them help me teach the new baby!

Baby Signs with Barbara said...

What a great experience you've been having using sign language! I'm a Baby Signs® instructor so I am familiar with the science that the program is based on because Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn - the creators of Baby Signs® - were the ones who conducted the research!
One thing I wanted to mention: though Jamey may be a late talker, it isn't likely due to the signing. In fact, the research shows that it can actually speed up language development. A good analogy is that crawling is to walking, as signing is to talking.
Jamey's vocabulary is really impressive! Good job to all of you!

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